1. MARKET FAILURE?
London Bridge and Borough Market are very visible symbols of our capital city’s, and Britain’s, talent for renewal and regeneration. So full of life and ideas, they offer a powerfully stark contrast to the death cult of the deranged extremist Islamism that struck on Saturday night. From the bloke who held onto his pint to Progress’s Richard Angell going back to pay his restaurant bill, we’ve seen a superbly British mix of defiance and compassion.
But as we try to take in the third terror attack on the UK in just 10 weeks, where does it leave our general election? Theresa May’s admirers were impressed by her ‘enough is enough’ speech yesterday, yet to many her four-point plan struck a jarring note, coming so soon after the horrific van and knife assault.
And having for so long pitched herself as the agent of change, it’s May’s own record in Government that is thrown into sharp relief by the tragic events of recent weeks. While she is obviously not to blame for the actions of the fanatics, Labour wants to make her accountable for decisions such as relaxing control orders and cutting police numbers, including armed police numbers (long-held Yvette Cooper complaints). Despite success in foiling five plots this year, have the security services failed while on her watch?
Jim Gamble, the former head of counter-terrorism in Belfast, blogs for HuffPostUK on May’s ‘endless cuts’ to police and other public services that are praised by politicians in emergencies. And Culture Secretary Karen Bradley had a rough time on the breakfast airwaves, with GMB’s Piers Morgan host telling her “Theresa May’s cuts mean she now has the blood of our civilians on her hands”.
When asked about armed police numbers, Bradley later admitted on Today that “there have been reductions across the board”, though she added “it’s not just about numbers, it’s about powers”. Met Police chief Cressida Dick said ‘we have very good resources’. But she added: ‘we are going to have to…look at our resource levels and how we use them’.
May’s critics think that she has trashed her own brand thanks to her flip-flops on the Budget, calling the election and social care. And even on her prized asset of ‘security’, we can now add U-turns on control orders (watering them down, now beefing them up) and police cuts (reversing her own reductions). Thursday still seems a long way way, but some Tories just can’t wait to get over the finishing line.
2. LEADERSHIP DEFENCE
The conventional wisdom has often been that if an election is turned into a ‘security election’, then the Tories will have an advantage. Yet despite Manchester, despite the rows over Jeremy Corbyn’s views of foreign policy and the IRA, nearly all the polls have narrowed.
The real problem for anyone looking for predictions was the wide spread among all the different polls this weekend, ranging from just a one point Tory lead to a 12-point gap. The fieldwork for almost all of them was done before Friday night’s BBC Question Time special, and certainly before the London Bridge attack. The Mail on Sunday/Survation poll - which was done on Saturday - had CON 40%(-6), LAB 39%(+5).
I’m told Tory activists on the doorstep on Saturday morning were picking up one thing: voters had spotted Corbyn’s uncomfortable answers on using nuclear weapons. And the Mail on Sunday transcript of a taped conversation between Corbyn’s aide Seumas Milne and the Labour leader is quoted in many news outets. “Without looking defensive, we need [to] seal down the Trident thing so it doesn’t keep intruding in the next few days. We just need a form of words… to shut down the nuclear question,” Milne was heard saying as he got the train back to London on Friday night. He also implied Corbyn would never push the button: “If there has been a first strike, what is the point of the second strike?”
What was also interesting in the Milne transcript was the close coordination with Ed Miliband, himself not always a fan of Corbyn. And that points to a wider issue about this whole election as we head into the final days: May’s poor performance (Friday night excepted, when she was her most relaxed and fluent in the campaign so far) is persuading Corbyn-sceptics to reassert their tribal loyalty to Labour. Even Alastair Campbell tweeted this weekend that “Labour was heading for disaster. Now I’m voting Corbyn”.
Our latest HuffPost-Edelman focus group in Kent found 2015 UKIP voters divided over May’s U-turns. Some said they proved she was a good listener, others felt they showed she was not remotely as strong or stable as they’d been told. Some were now voting Tory, but others heading for Labour.
The question of whether Governments lose elections or Oppositions win them is still moot. Many of those polls still point to an increased Tory majority. And the jury is out on whether Corbyn has rewritten the long-held rule that no party can win an election without having a lead on economic competence or Prime Ministerial leadership.
3. OH CANADA
Canadian Christine Archibald is the first of the murdered victims to be named, and her story is truly tragic. CBC reports that the 30-year-old was in London for a holiday weekend with her fiancé, Tyler Ferguson. “She had never been there before, so they decided to take a walking tour of London in the nighttime,” Tyler’s brother said. “He was showing her some sights and walking around and just enjoying the nice night.”
After the van struck, Tyler tried to resuscitate his partner on the pavement, before the emergency services arrived. “He held her and watched her die in his arms,” Ferguson’s sister said. “He is broken into a million pieces”.
Christine worked in a homeless shelter in Calgary, Canada. Her family put out an incredibly moving statement overnight: ”She had room in her heart for everyone and believed strongly that every person was to be valued and respected. She would have had no understanding of the callous cruelty that caused her death. Please honour her by making your community a better place. Volunteer your time and labour or donate to a homeless shelter. Tell them Chrissy sent you.”
4. TRUMP’S MAYOR CULPA
Tonight, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is expected to attend a vigil in Potters Field Park, near City Hall and the scene of the awful attack. Khan’s reaction to the events of Saturday, expressing both “grief and anger”, was praised by many. Many, apart from Donald J Trump, who saw fit to use it to quote the Mayor out of context.
Trump tweeted to his millions of followers: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack..and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” What Khan had actually said in a TV interview was “You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this.” Fake news indeed.
The Mayor’s spokesman had a canny response to Trump, stating he had “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet”. But the prize for spikiest, and bravest, response to the President came from his own acting Ambassador to London. Lewis Lukens issued a pointed statement: “I commend the strong leadership of [Sadiq Khan] as he leads the city forward after this heinous attack.”
The fact that the US has only an ‘acting’ ambassador in the capital of one of its key allies says everything about the dysfunctional nature of the Trump White House. The President broke with precedent in ordering every ‘political’ ambassador to quit by his Inauguration Day, without first finding any replacement. Trump has so far nominated just 10 so far.
And it’s a measure of just how tone deaf and inexperienced Trump is that reports emerged out of Washington that the President was thinking of staging a visit to London ‘later this week’. Yes, general election week. That really would be one way to unite the United Kingdom.
A key plank of May’s new four-point plan was repeating her intention to get tech giants to do more to tackle online extremism. The Telegraph splash brings home the point as it reveals police secretly recorded an alleged terror cell in Barking last month discussing how to use Youtube to plot a van and knife attack in London.
May included in the Tory manifesto calls for a new global agreement on online terror prevention and she raised it at the G7 summit recently. Certainly, No.10 thinks that Facebook and Google can do a lot more to idenitfy and take down extremist content, not least given the ‘copycat’ threat. And pressure does work, as proved by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent decision to employ 3,000 actual human beings to filter and remove unacceptable content.
The bigger problem comes with moves to stop end-to-end encryption, as Home Secretary Amber Rudd urged yesterday off the back of the PM’s statement. Tech experts say that breaking the encryption would effectively give not just Governments but hackers, and others, a backdoor route into everyone’s smartphone.
One big worry is that ministers just don’t understand the tech (as Rudd’s infamous ‘necessary hashtags’ line recently suggested). But the Telegraph reports that ISIS used the messaging app Telegram to send out a propaganda poster hours before the attack, featuring a white truck, a knife and a gun, calling on supporters to ‘kill the civilians of the Crusades, run them over by vehicle’. Telegram is ‘the app of choice’ for Jihadis, the Washington Post reports. The Sun has a scoop on other powers security services want including curbs on mobile SIM cards and car rentals.
If you’re reading this on the web, sign-up HERE to get The Waugh Zone delivered to your inbox.